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Maureen Lane

First Step to Cutting Poverty in Half: Coherent Policies

Last week, the Center for American Progress (CAP) issued a stirring report with recommendations on cutting poverty in half in the next ten years. CAP convened a diverse group of national experts and leaders to examine the causes and effects of poverty in America and put forth a plan for national action.

I was happy to see the issues these leaders identified as important.

The report delivers 12 key steps to cutting poverty in half. Below are my quick reactions to three. What do you think? And these the key ways to cut into poverty?

"Modernize [public] benefits programs to develop a coordinated system that helps workers and families."

It's certainly about time. As they are currently structured, public benefits programs have thwarted their own potential to help families move out of poverty. They are simply bogged down in impractical policy. For example, after ten years of states identifying that education and training programs are central to people moving from welfare to sustainable employment, the federal government, via its Department of Health and Human Services, issued new welfare regulations that virtually eliminate access to basic education, literacy and GED courses for people who need them. Most adults receiving public assistance do not have a high school diploma. It seems clear that hooking these people up with education and training will help them get better jobs and attain longer-term financial self-sufficiency.

As reported in the US Census Bureau News for Educational Attainment in the US: 2006: adults with bachelor's degree earned an average of $54,689 in 2005, while those with a high school diploma earned $29,448. People with less than high school degrees are more likely to earn minimum wage or a little above. $14,872 is the annual income of a full-time worker at $7.15 an hour. Depending on the size of your family, that is barely above poverty. To seriously cut poverty in the next ten years, national policy and local for that matter, must advance sustainable employment through benefits participants getting the skills and credentials they need in order to economically advance. A good place to start is with the Department of Health and Human Services. It's time to for this department to dramatically change the policies it put into place last summer - people on public assistance need to be able to count the long hours spent in the classroom as the work required to receive welfare benefits!

Connect disadvantaged and disconnected youth with school and work.

That's one little sentence, but one hefty idea., As I have repeatedly written, access to education for adults and children moving from high school to higher education or work requires some serious integrated policy backed by political will. In a perfect world, poor and low-income students would be encouraged and connected to higher education with the same vigor colleges bring to their outreach to the top five percent of high school grads.

Simplify and expand Pell Grants and make higher education accessible to residents of each state.

Yes. Federal grants and work-study for the college bound need to be expanded in breadth and depth. A commitment to prioritize higher education will require some serious money. Right now, grant levels need to rise to meet college costs and the family income eligibility needs top rise to capture more families. Ninety percent of students receiving PELL, the federal college grant, come from families with incomes below $25,000 a year. More families need to be eligible - maybe all families up to and including those with incomes of $60,000 a year.

Coherent policies will be the measure of our country's commitment to all of us. Political leaders can't say that education and training are priorities for our innovation economy and yet support domestic social policies that defy those priorities.

That is, if cutting poverty is half (or by even less!) is the goal.

Maureen Lane: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 9:08 AM, May 03, 2007 in Economic Opportunity | Education | Welfare
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